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Teen Book Review- The Cousins by Karen McManus

I’ve read every single one of Karen McManus‘s books, starting with One of Us Is Lying, so when I saw her newest–The Cousins, I knew I had to read it too. (It’s already been established from my other reviews that I like mysteries. 😀 )

Milly, Jonah, and Aubrey are the Story cousins, whose parents, along with uncle Archer, were disinherited by their grandmother, Mildred Story, twenty-four years ago (via a cryptic letter). Milly, Jonah, and Aubrey barely know each other, and have never even met their grandmother but that all changes when a letter from her arrives, requesting their presence back at the family island. Thinking this may be their chance to re-enter the Story will, Milly, Jonah, and Aubrey’s parents all force their children to accept.

But things are not what they seem at the island, and as clues start popping up around them, the cousins try to unbury their family’s dark history.

I had seriously high hopes for this book and I blame it on Agatha Christies’ And Then They Were None and on We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. I expected the ‘creepy island where everyone gets murdered one by one’ trope, but McManus played it differently–the island is a tourist spot, crowded with other people. There also isn’t any thriller aspect to the story, which, I admit, disappointed me.

If examined as a mystery, however, it passes the bar. I did not see the end coming, like at all (in a good way), but once they had solved it, I found it a bit…lukewarm. It’s not bad or average, but it won’t knock your socks off, either is what I’m saying.

Something I do always appreciate with all her books, though (and it shone particularly well in this one) is the characters. Even with the multiple perspectives, we are given so much depth that I couldn’t help but falling a little in love with each of them! The side characters, too! Like no spoilers, but there is one side character in particular that was super well-written. In regards to the writing, I found the plot to advance at a very good pace, with a perfect proportion of description and dialogue.

All in all, if you enjoyed any of her other books, you will love this one too. 9/10.

P.S. See? I CAN write a normal sized review. 😀

Teen Book Review- Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Allegedly - Jackson, Tiffany

TL; DR: This is the first book I am at a loss on how to review. 4 or 9 /10.

So. I don’t know how to start the review for Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson and that’s a first. I usually have a million of things to say (notice the average length of my reviews, hahaha) but for this one, I am still grappling.

Before I go into that, the premise.

Mary B. Addison killed a baby. Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say. Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home. There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

Just from that you know that this thriller is going to be intense. And it really was.

First of all, why is this a YA novel? The protag is 16 years old but the topics in here are HEAVY and well… don’t open it expecting your typical YA stuff. Although that isn’t exactly fair either, because it does have a bunch of your typical YA stuff.

To give (some) structure to the review, I’ll break it down like this. Characters: 9/10. The arcs are strong, and the main characters are EXTREMELY complex and well-written. The side characters on the other hand are lacking, and stereotypically so. Writing: 7/10 Some lines catch you off-guard with their beauty but the overall style was just average. Romance: 8/10. I am still iffy about the romance, but oh well, it’s YA! Importance/Issues Discussed: 10/10. Now that’s one thing I can’t criticize Allegedly for. It takes the most uncomfortable, least-discussed, nitty gritty of the world and forces you to grapple with it. Just… astounding.

Notice how I didn’t rate the plot. Because the plot is *continuous screaming*. Without any spoilers, this is my plea to authors everywhere: DO NOT INCLUDE A PLOT TWIST IF THE ONLY THING IT’S ADDING TO THE BOOK IS SHOCK VALUE.

The ending felt incomplete and it was a long way for me to go to end up unsatisfied. I can’t give the book an overall rating because it’s either a 4/10 or a 9/10. Take from this review (which ended up being long despite what I said at the beginning, super sorry!) what you will and go forth with indecisiveness on whether to read Allegedly or not. 🙂 You’re welcome.

Teen Book Review – I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak

I Am the Messanger

TL; DR 8.5/10 only because it’s not my style of book (like The Book Thief was), but do give it a read just in case it is yours.

I’ll be honest and say that I only started I Am The Messenger because Markus Zusak is the one that wrote The Book Thief. I wasn’t expecting the books to be completely alike, but considering they have the same author, I did expect some similarity. In that regard, I was disappointed.

I Am The Messenger is very different from The Book Thief. The Book Thief’s beauty is apparent and classy, it’s like a stunning painting on the wall. I Am The Messenger has beauty, too, but it’s inconspicuous and not obvious at all. To continue my metaphor, if the Book Thief is a revered masterpiece, I Am The Messenger is a patch of graffiti, but like… talented graffiti.

Awkward metaphors aside, here’s the disclaimer: DO NOT PICK THIS BOOK UP EXPECTING “THE BOOK THIEF” 2.0

Now that we’ve got that settled… Ed Kennedy is the main character in this book. He is an underage cab driver, hobbyist card player, and completely in love with his best friend Audrey. He lives in a shack (his words, not mine) with the Doorman (foul-smelling but beloved dog). In other words, Ed Kennedy is a deadbeat at the ripe old age of 19.

But then Ed Kennedy stops a robbery. Which isn’t much of a feat, really, since the bank robber was almost as incompetent as Ed himself, but it does end up changing his life. Because that’s when the first ace arrives in the mail.

On the cards, there are simple codes. Sometimes addresses, sometimes the names of movies or places… but the goal is obvious, at times even simple. Ed has to make an impact. Doing good (or bad when needed) Ed becomes the Messenger.

The question remains… who is behind Ed’s mission?.

My review, finally: This book is the kind of good that slaps you in the face five pages from the ending. There are pieces of gold comedy in there– it made me laugh out loud. There are also some very ugly scenes, scenes that are uncomfortable and seem to serve no purpose than making the reader insane. But like I said, it’s really good. (I can think of no other way to describe it, sorry!!) The romance is shockingly well-written, and doesn’t take up too much of the book, which is always a plus. I’d definitely recommend it, but with some pointers: you’ll be confused. You’ll want to stop reading, and send an email to the author involving a lot of question marks. You’ll wonder at the slang. But at the end, if you stick with it, you’ll appreciate it for the gem it is, and the message (pun intended) it carries.

Teen SRC 2020- A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder - Jackson, Holly

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson seemed like an interesting read (the cover is amazing, and i judged the book by it, fight me 😉 ). But then, the synopsis ended up disappointing me. It sounded like the book was a mash-up of literally every other YA murder mystery. We have our usual ‘good’ white girl protagonist, our suspect from a marginalized community, with a name like ‘Sal Singh’ to make it extra obvious. We have the popular/mean girl murder victim (Andie) and the lazy/racist reporter. Then, of course, Ravi. The younger brother of previously mentioned murderer that killed his girlfriend then himself (Sal Singh). Of course, Ravi is the cute but very reserved and intense love interest.

The first quarter of this book made me want to chuck it at a wall. But I kept going and… it improved. BY A LOT.

The characters stayed flat. Only Pippa (protag) had some sort of character arc, and even that was half-hearted. No, the only thing that redeemed this book was the mystery. It was SHOCKINGLY well-planned and thought out. I didn’t guess the murderer and wouldn’t have in a thousand years, but IT MADE SENSE.

The romance ended up growing on me, and the relationships between the characters are okay. I don’t have much else to say, so the rating: 8/10. Boring and stereotyped characters, but BRILLIANT mystery. Enjoyable, and suspenseful, but seriously– too many cliches.

Teen SRC 2020- The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos

The Girl They Left Behind - Veletzos, Roxanne

The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos is the most moving, heartbreaking and beautiful book I’ve read in a long time. Set in World War II Romania, the book tells the life story of two families joined despite war, boundaries, and suffering, by the daughter they share.

Natalia is four years old when the knock comes on her door. The police is here to arrest her father and take her and her mother away. It is only by sheer luck that the family runs away in the cover of the night. Fearing for their lives, and that of their daughter’s, Natalia’s parents have to make the worst decision of their lives. Leave Natalia behind, and give her the chance at a better life, breaking their own hearts in the process, or risk taking her with them, where death is an almost certain possibility.

Enter Despina and Anton. In every way except one, they are the perfect young couple. She is rich and gorgeous, he is charming and happy. But after four miscarriages, the sadness that hangs on Despina is too much for Anton to accept. At the orphanage, Despina and Anton are shocked to meet Natalia a silent, broken girl, and not the joyous bundle they expected. But something stirs deep inside her heart and Despina knows she needs Natalia’s love just as much as Natalia needs hers.

Despina, Anton, and Natalia’s story is told in gripping scenes and chapters, time passing as Natalia slowly grows up into a young woman. With the war ending, and the Soviets taking control, the family’s fortunes are reversed. They lose everything, and come close to losing each other. Victor, a young man Anton took under his wing years ago, returns later in the story as a powerful Communist leader. He becomes, even as they begin a secret affair, Natalia’s only chance at freedom.

With the devastation of war and the power of love, comes the pain of sacrifice. What will Natalia choose: staying with the only people she’s ever loved, in an ever-shrinking world, or leave behind everything to seek freedom, and answers to a past she thought buried?

Wow, okay, so the description went a little long (sorry! and believe me, there were no spoilers in it). The book itself includes so much more, and every bit of it is raw, and riveting. The passage of time was discreet, and well-written, and the subplots/ change in perspectives were amazing. The only thing I didn’t like in the book was the romance between Victor and Talia, and the fact that sometimes a scene would start in the middle, telling us what happened before instead of showing it. That glossed over some things should’ve been more important.

Anyway, the book shook me to my core. It made me cry, both from sorrow and happiness. Each character is complex, none of them perfect (having well-written characters in historical fiction is a must!!) The Girl They Left Behind matches to the likes of The Book Thief. 10/10, no regrets.

Teen SRC 2020- We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars

Having read Genuine Fraud (also by E. Lockhart) I started We Were Liars happily expecting to have my socks knocked off. And it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Welcome to the Sinclair family. Tall, proud, and rich. Golden-haired, freckled, and most importantly: perfect. There are no Sinclair addicts, drop-outs, or failures. And every summer, the prestigious family meets on their very own island. But one summer, when the Liars (Cadence, her cousins, and a family friend named Gat) are fifteen, something goes horribly wrong. Cadence has an accident and now, at seventeen, she’s still suffering from constant migraines and selective amnesia. She doesn’t remember a thing of what happened. But after having skipped summer sixteen to travel Europe with her dad, Cadence finally returns to Beechwood Island, desperate for answers.

We Were Liars was absolutely brilliant. The idea of a perfect and rich family with their own island is fascinating, and E. Lockhart pulled it off impeccably AND realistically. The flashbacks, Cadence’s pain written in fanciful poetry, and yes, even the romance, was enjoyable to read. It beautifully conveyed the reality that no family is perfect, and there is an overall message in the book about dealing with family problems, money, expectations, pain, loss, and guilt…

And then there’s the plot twist. OH BOY, what can I say about the plot twist? My heart skipped a beat and I had to read the page again and again when I got to it. And the best part: it was entirely believable. (I mean, it took some time but I eventually came to terms with it.) Seriously, the plot twist is amazing.

The book isn’t perfect. (Duh, nothing’s perfect. Not even the Sinclairs!) The switching timelines were confusing: I didn’t know half the time when Cadence was talking about summer fifteen or seventeen. It could have been improved with chapter headings or something like ‘before’ and ‘after’. Cadence is okay as a character– not enough personality in my opinion, and not very likable, either. There were also some overdone metaphors that cut the quality of the writing, and and abrupt ending that needed more and slower falling action.

But please, don’t let my harsh criticism put you off. (that’s just me being me, really.) We Were Liars gripped me from the start and I finished the book in hours. I sacrificed sleep for it, and I don’t regret a thing. It’s the best of the best of contemporary suspense novels and I can’t wait to read it again. 9.5/10.

Teen SRC 2020- The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager - Philippe, Ben

When I first started reading The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, I didn’t expect much from it. I was wrong. So, so, so wrong. It’s an amazing book but before I start telling you exactly why, let me tell you what it’s about.

Norris Kaplan is a Black kid from Montreal and he is moving to Austin, Texas. Being an only child of divorced parents, living with his dad’s new family is not an option. And Judith (immigrant, professor, all-around cool mom), doesn’t have many options when it comes to a job. So Texas it is. Norris knows he will hate it. If you ignore the fact that it is TEXAS we’re talking about (and the tiny little detail of Norris’s skin colour), there’s the heat, the lack of hockey, and perhaps even more glaring than the Texas sun, his lack of friends.

Norris promises his mom that he will try. And trying means reigning in his sarcastic and often caustic tongue, limiting his thoughts to the pages of his counsellor-given notebook. Enter: Maddie, kind (?) cheerleader, Liam, budding hockey enthusiast (rich, too), Aarti, beautiful and witty photographer (Norris is in love). Even Patrick “Hairy Armpits”, school bully, is given a chance in Norris’s new Texan life.

But then things start to go awry (see: Norris’s inability to keep his mouth shut and general tendency to be a jerk) and soon he has as many enemies as friends. Seems like his sweat glands had the right idea… Texas isn’t the right place for him and might never be.

I know what you’re thinking. This is just another new-kid-finds-his-tribe type of book. And it is, (kind of), but not so cliched. (arrogant Black French Canadian protagonist might have given that away.) There are the usual party scenes, and quirky date scenes, of course, but there are also other more poignant plot lines. Norris’s relationship with his parents, for example, the complexity of which I loved. There’s also discussions about depression, racism, and what it means to be yourself. Best of all, there’s no preachiness in the book, or lines stolen from a therapy/parenting book. The characters feel real, and they act like real, flawed teenagers. The wittiness of the dialogue alone is a feat. Norris’s character development is WONDERFUL and gosh, this book really is a feel-good story that will break your heart and make it whole again.

Alas, I am but a judgemental critic and The Field Guide to the North American Teenager gets a mark shy of a 100: 9/10. Why? The chapter headings (you’ll have to read the book to understand) were off-putting and a hassle. There were also some stereotypes in the book I could have done without (see: Indian girl with strict parents, Black absentee dad) but the plot lines did okay with them in the end.

Overall, this is a book I would recommend to everyone, and if you’re looking for your next read, you’ve just found it. (P.S. Isn’t the cover just GORGEOUS?)

Teen SRC 2020 – The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

The Rest of the Story

This story is about a girl named Emma Saylor Payne. She doesn’t remember her mother (Waverly) very well, she died when Emma was 12. But, she does remember the stories that her mother told her, the big lake with nice cold and clear water that went on forever. Now, it’s just Emma and her dad. Her dad remarried and they went on their honeymoon. Sadly, due to the issue of Emma not having a place to stay, her dad had to think, Emma’s grandma had an idea for Emma to stay with her mother’s family. During her 3 weeks at north lake, she slowly familiarizes herself even though the last time she’d been there was when she was 4. Emma knows what north lake looks like from imagining it from when her mom told very detailed stories. But, Waverly didn’t describe the people there. Emma’s journey awaits by introducing herself to these soon to be friends, hopefully…

Teen SRC 2020 – The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The Downstairs Girl

A historical fiction mystery with a witty protagonist not afraid to speak her mind. You can’t go wrong with a book like this, but adding proper POC representation, unconventional family troubles, and career goals is just icing on the cake.

Introducing: Jo Kuan. She lives with her stand-in father, Old Gin, in the basement of a print shop, in 1890’s Atlanta. Having just been fired from a millinery (apparently customers are uncomfortable with her directness. Or maybe it’s her Chinese features. Probably both.) Jo has no choice but to take up position once again as a maid for Caroline Payne, the downright cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in the city. If memory serves right, Jo is going to have her work cut out for her, especially now that she’s started anonymously penning the column “Miss Sweetie.” She started the column so that the newspaper shop (also secretly serving as her home) can stay in business.

But as each article starts voicing more and more progressive ideas, the elite of Atlanta pick up pitchforks. How could someone so openly write against segregation, encourage women to ride the bicycle, and–gasp!– promote a future for women that ISN’T marriage? Jo knows that if Miss Sweetie is unmasked as a Chinese commoner, it could mean her life. But having had a taste of the freedom words can give, Jo isn’t ready to give up so easily.

I absolutely adored this book. The summary I (tried to) give above is just a fraction of the plot, all of which is completely riveting. Stacey Lee’s writing style is unique, and honestly, at first, I didn’t know what to think about it. The funny expressions grew on me, though, and I ended up loving her style. Don’t let the cover put you off (the potential wasted on portrait covers is a hill I will die on)– this book is worth a read.

Teen SRC 2020- Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman

Dry

Living in a time where dystopian books are common and overdone (the more apocalyptic and doomsday-ish, the better) it’s truly rare to find a book that will leave you with chills running down your spine. Dry, by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman does exactly that.

The idea behind this book is also unusual but not entirely unimaginable; what if the taps were to suddenly go dry? What if there was no more running water, and what if everyone around you suddenly became a thirsty water-zombie that would stop at nothing to get a few drops of the stuff? I know what you’re thinking. No running water, the end of the world, and ZOMBIES? Not another apocalypse book!

And while I don’t consider myself an expert on sci-fi or dystopian novels (not really my genre), I think this book did some things differently that changed it from an overused cliche doomsday book to something special.

First: This novel is narrated by a multiple person perspective. The first few characters stuck throughout the story, but others were just here to offer ‘snapshots’. I found it interesting because we didn’t just see what the Tap-Out meant for Alyssa, Kelton and their friends but for a whole host of different people. Living the apocalypse isn’t really fun when you don’t get the whole experience, am I right?

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